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The disposable culture

By   /   June 26, 2012  /   Comments



For all the talk in some circles about a culture war, many people don’t really understand that.  I’ll be honest, I have only a vague understanding of what some people mean by “culture war”.  However, there is a way I describe our culture and I think does deserve a war against: Our disposable culture.

I can feel the eyes rolling already.  “Tom’s a tree hugger,” some of you are saying.  Others are muttering, “Oh great, an editorial on recycling.”  Wrong and wrong.  This has nothing to do with the environment.  Instead, it has more to do with a culture that doesn’t build things to last.

I was in the Navy during the flood of 1994, but my mother was here.  She’s a classic “do gooder” who has always wanted to get involved.  After the flood, she helped a great many people clean up.  One story, that illustrates the nature of our culture is how she, a rather small woman, moved a large dresser all by herself.  While it was beautiful on the outside, it was made of particle board.  Anyone who’s seen what particle board does when it gets wet knows that my mother moved that dresser in multiple trips because it disintegrated due to the flood.

That dresser isn’t unique.  Most of us have a lot of furniture built that same way.  They look good, and they’re cheap, so they have become the furniture of choice for most. It’s a shame too, because less and less heirloom furniture will be passed down to our children.  It just won’t exist.

Furniture isn’t the only place it happens either.  It’s now cheaper to replace many electronics rather than repair them.  Clothes are made with inexpensive fabrics are won’t last but a couple of years at most. Some people even view their marriages as “disposable”, knowing that divorce is quick and easy.

So what is to be done?

Well, to start with, each of us needs to start buying quality.  Solid wood furniture weathered the floods of 1994 and 1998 far better than particle board furniture did.  Quality clothing lasts long enough that you actually end up saving money over the long run.  The same is true of electronics.

In addition, I think the community needs to support those who view the world a little differently.  Tinkering and making things inherently leads to a desire for higher quality in things that are purchased.  Those who make furniture rarely are satisfied with particle board, after all.

There is a movement underway to bring create a “makerspace” here in Albany.  This movement hopes to create a place where people can build, tinker, experiment and create things that may serve no practical purpose; but on the other hand, might lead the next Thomas Edison to hail from the Good Life City.

According to their website, “a makerspace is a place where young people have an opportunity to explore their own interests, learn to use tools and materials, and develop creative projects.”

Creativity breeds a love of quality.  Maybe something like this, and the inherent desire to make better and better, is exactly what Albany needs.  Maybe this is the answer to our disposable culture.

But what if it’s not?  Well, who cares?  The fight against our disposable culture isn’t going to be won overnight, but something like a makerspace gives our young people an opportunity to build, create, and inspire.  It gives them an outlet that they haven’t had.  The potential positive side effects are endless.

Either way, regardless of whether they’re a weapon in the war against a disposable culture or not, they’ve got my support.  They’ll be at the next Arts On Deck event downtown.  I urge you all to come out, at least for a little while, and check it out.  I plan on doing the same.


   Tom Knighton is the Editor and Publisher of the Albany Journal.

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